Private John McPeak – the armoured car gunner

photo of Private John McPeak

Private John McPeak

Private Jock McPeak was the machine-gun operator in the armored car; which followed immediately behind Commander-in-Chief Michael Collins’ touring car, during the fatal ambush at Béal na mBláth. A British soldier himself right up until the Truce, he has been the subject of considerable speculation, for his central position at the much-disputed Vickers machine gun; as well as for extraordinary turncoat adventures and criminal convictions, in the wake of Collins’ death.  Following excerpts from the book “The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Béal na mBláth?” offer a nutshell of McPeak’s enigmatic story:

As the gunner who operated the Vickers machine gun in the turret of the armoured car, McPeak, his conduct, and the performance of that gun, are most central to events at Béal na mBláth. Upon close scrutiny, his actions and words cast conspicuous doubt upon his veracity and character; including the key question of whether McPeak’s gun worked fine, or malfunctioned.

McPeak was one of those most directly responsible for the protection of the C-in-C’s invaluable life, and physically nearest to him at the moment of his suspicious death. He was reportedly the object of acute suspicion among fellow Free State soldiers; suspicion which seemed justified soon after by his desertion and theft of the armoured car.

In view of all the mysterious factors connected with him, hardly any other conclusion would be reasonable but that, if Collins met his fate through the agency of traitors in his own bodyguard, then McPeak was either involved, or had some knowledge of what happened. If so, his account published in 1971 might be expected to contain inaccuracies, calculated to conceal something he knew. (That is, he would be one who may have lied, had more reason to lie than others, etc.)

There are a number of wild rumours about McPeak, ostensibly coming from former Free State soldiers. These include reports that he was accused, interrogated, beaten, and charged with Michael Collins’ murder (but that charges were dropped for lack of evidence.) Others said that, in his cups, McPeak boasted that he had killed Collins. Another witness claims that McPeak admitted the C-in-C fell “accidentally” to “friendly fire”.

The truth is the strangest tale of all: three months after the ambush, the Irish Civil War still raging, McPeak deserted the Free State Army, and joined the anti-Treaty side. In doing so, he just happened to drive away, not with just any armoured car, but that one in particular, which took such an important part in the ambush where Collins died.

A number of plausible explanations were offered for this extraordinary theft of army property. But none of them are nearly so likely, as that his absconding with that great hulking piece of evidence had to do with that single most important event connected with it, and with him: the C-in-C’s untimely demise.

Could an examination of the armoured car and its machine gun turret have cast doubt on someone’s version of what happened?

Read more
The Assassination of Michael Collins:
What Happened At Béal na mBláth?”
The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Béal na mBláth? by S M Sigerson - Cover Image

by S M Sigerson

Paperback or Kindle edition here:
www.amazon.com/dp/1493784714

All other e-reader formats:
www.smashwords.com/books/view/433954

Read reviews:
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Oliver St John Gogarty: Witness Statement #700 – Bureau of Military History

portrait of Oliver St John Gogarty (image courtesy of prabook.com)

Oliver St John Gogarty (image courtesy of prabook.com)

Dr Oliver St John Gogarty cut an enigmatic figure in Ireland’s early 20th century renaissance; turning up in the background of great works (such as James Joyce’ “Ulysses”) and great deeds (in the War of Independence.) A medical doctor, he counted W B Yeats among his patients.  After meeting Arthur Griffith, he became a founding member of Sinn Fein. A poet of the Irish literary revival, he also served as a Senator in Dublin’s early Senate; and was still writing and publishing in the 1950s.

His comments on the death of Michael Collins (included below) are particularly interesting to historians, not only as Collins’s personal friend and physician.  It was Gogarty’s melancholy duty to prepare Collins’ remains for burial.  Witnesses recount his penetrating remarks, as he pointed out to Collins’ family and friends the young General’s fatal wounds, before the lying-in-state.  Although reputed to have performed an autopsy as well, no report by him as medical examiner seems to have survived.  (One of many startling mysteries concerning records of the Commander-in-Chief’s untimely loss.)

Gogarty’s own views on this topic have been difficult to pin down; until the recent release of the Bureau of Military History’s files on the War of Independence and Civil War.  His Witness Statement (below) is the only official documentation of his assessment of Collins’ end.  It must carry considerable weight; especially in view of its having been made in strictest confidence, as not to be released in his lifetime.

(The text below constitutes Doctor Gogarty’s Witness Statement in its entirety.  Note the Bureau’s notation of his “Identity”.)

Identity: Close associate of Michael Collins

Subject: Placing of his home at Michael Collins’ disposal as a hiding place

June 19th, 1952

When the Black and Tans behaved in such an excited and unsoldierly way by endangering my daughter’s life when she was playing in St Stephen’s Green, I resolved to give all the help in my power to the Resistance movement headed by Michael Collins. His confidante, Batt O’Connor was a patient of mine. To him I gave whatever gold I could come by for his reserve which was in a metal box cemented into a wall at Donnybrook where Batt O’Connor was building at the time. I also gave him a latch key of my house, 15 Ely Place and prepared that apparently impassible cul de sac so that Collins, if hard pressed, could use my garden and appear in St Stephen’s Green. There was a passage between the Board of Works and the Church Representative Body house that, through a wicket, gave on to the Green. In order to facilitate the scaling of the wall I had some cases of petrol placed against it under a large ash tree in the garden. These preparations were passed on by Batt O’Connor to Michael Collins and his thanks conveyed.

Collins was an infrequent caller at my house. Emmet Dalton handed me back the latch key which he took from the blood-stained tunic of General Collins, who was murdered by the instigator of the Civil War.

You are at liberty to make whatever use of this you may find good.
Believe me to remain
With every good wish for you and the work
Yours sincerely,
Oliver St J Gogarty (signature)”

Read more
“The Assassination of Michael Collins:
What Happened At Béal na mBláth?”

The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Béal na mBláth? by S M Sigerson - Cover Image

by S M Sigerson
Paperback or Kindle edition here:
www.amazon.com/dp/1493784714

All other e-reader formats:
www.smashwords.com/books/view/433954

Read reviews:
http://www.rabidreaders.com/2014/12/03/assassination-michael-collins-s-m-sigerson-2/

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Harry Boland and Michael Collins: were their deaths connected?

photo of Harry Boland

Harry Boland

 

Harry Boland TD, a Volunteer since 1913, was a close friend and associate of Michael Collins; and, like him, a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (“IRB”) Supreme Council. He played a leading role in the War of Independence, and would have been expected to hold a Cabinet seat or other high office in the post-war government.

(Following are excerpts from the book “The Assassination of Michael Collins: What happened at Beal na mBlath?“)

Chances are about a million to one against there having been anything either “accidental”, “random”, or “natural” about the sudden death, within days of each other, of Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith, and Harry Boland…

Boland’s death took place in the very opening days of the Civil War. According to Deasy, it was attended by “mysterious circumstances” and “was another serious blow to the moderate wing” of the anti-Treaty side. That is, it drove another nail into the coffin of hopes for a swift reunification of Ireland’s victorious War of Independence army…

TDs are not to be shot  **

During the dreadful first week of civil war [Boland] was constantly moving between DeValera and Collins trying to patch up a truce.” And the Free State authorities were still pursuing a “policy of moderation” in “hopes of a negotiated settlement.”

On 17 July 1922, shortly before Boland’s death, the Provisional Government had made a unanimous decision “on advice from Collins“, not to arrest elected representatives, propagandists, nor “mere political suspects … except of course, those actually captured in arms.” The date of this resolution, particularly urged by Collins, was just days before the incident which took Boland’s life.

Official policy was in place: no arrests of TDs, nor of unarmed political opponents. Boland was unarmed when taken. This was never disputed by either side. Why then was a military manoeuvre mounted to seize him?

Collins’ well-known letter to Harry of 28 July explicitly states that he “cannot” bring himself to have his friend arrested.

Yet two days later, on the 30th, Boland was taken: apparently as part of an elaborately well-planned siege, which could not have been mounted without considerable advance preparation.

What happened is only discernible through a haze of conflicting reports. (A confusion which resonates disturbingly with the tangle of tales around Béal na mBláth.)

[ ** “TD” is the abbreviation for the Irish term “Teachta Dalá“, which means deputy to the Dáil, a member of the Irish national legislature: equivalent to a Member of Parliament (MP) in Britain, or Congressman in the USA.]

Read moreBook cover image - The Assassination of Michael Collins - What Happened at Béal na mBláth

The Assassination of Michael Collins:
What Happened At Béal na mBláth?
by S M Sigerson

Paperback or Kindle edition here:
www.amazon.com/dp/1493784714

All other e-reader formats:
www.smashwords.com/books/view/433954

Read reviews:

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Also see:
cover image - Harry Boland's Irish RevolutionHarry Boland’s Irish Revolution

by David Fitzpatrick

https://www.corkuniversitypress.com/Harry-Bolands-Irish-Revolution-p/9781859183861.htm

 

Related post at this blog: “Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins: were their deaths connected?

https://collinsassassination.wordpress.com/2015/08/12/arthur-griffith-…deaths-connected/

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Liam Lynch and the Slide into Civil War 1922 – an article by Éireann Ascendant

Photo of IRA men in Grafton Street Dublin - courtesy Eireann Ascendant

IRA men in Grafton Street Dublin – courtesy Eireann Ascendant

Readers of this blog are sure to find this article of great interest indeed:
https://erinascendantwordpress.wordpress.com/2017/11/30/the-chains-of-trust-liam-lynch-and-the-slide-into-civil-war-1922-part-ii/

A brilliant Irish history blog, Éireann Ascendant, here presents fascinating details of negotiations, politics, personalities, and passions which so nearly averted civil war in Ireland. (As discussed on this blog below:  “May 1922: Leaders Strive to Prevent Civil War in Ireland
https://collinsassassination.wordpress.com/2018/05/05/may-1922-leaders-strive-to-prevent-civil-war-in-ireland/ )

 

Michael Collins … or Hitler?

photo of Michael Collins

Michael Collins

photo Nazi Germany crowd giving seig heil salute

Nazi Germany

 

But in history, as in travelling, men usually see only what they already had in their own minds; and few learn much from history, who do not bring much with them to its study.

– John Stuart Mill


T
he book’s Epilogue compares Collins, and his fate, with that of a notorious contemporary. Following are some excerpts:

Yes, Michael Collins and Adolf Hitler: just about exact contemporaries. Let’s consider these two, side by side. Let’s examine their ideas, their plans and vision, as set forth in their writings…

No one could plead ignorance as to what Hitler intended to do. He never made any secret of it. The war and the concentration camps and the mass genocide were all there in black and white, for the world to read at their leisure, in his bestseller “Mein Kampf“. And he did exactly what he said he would do…

The one assassinated in his prime; arguably with the collusion of the British regime…The other patronized, coddled and enabled by London, to the devastation of Britain’s neighbours and allies on the Continent … Until the viper they’d nursed in their breast turned on themselves…

The loss of life and property in the Nazi bombardment of London was one of the worst military catastrophes in English history; dwarfing by comparison all the casualties and damage attributable to Irish insurgency in a hundred years.

So much for conventional wisdom of the powers that be. What was really dangerous, and what was good, for British interests?

A secure, united, egalitarian Ireland next door? Or friendly fascists on the Continent?”

*** *** ***

Anyone feel a disturbing sense of déjà vu here?

Does history indeed repeat itself?

Read more;
The Assassination of Michael Collins:
What Happened At Béal na mBláth?”
by S M Sigerson

Paperback or Kindle edition here:
www.amazon.com/dp/1493784714

All other e-reader formats:
www.smashwords.com/books/view/433954

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https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/34749

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Book cover image - The Assassination of Michael Collins - What Happened at Béal na mBláth

Northern Ireland, Michael Collins, and mysterious shootings

1922 McMahon family murders NI Image

McMahon family murders, Belfast, Northern Ireland 1922

What do mysterious shootings & political crises in Northern Ireland have in common with Michael Collins?

No one ever took responsibility for the suspicious killing of Michael Collins in 1922. His sudden death changed the government and the future of his country.

As David Neligan put it, (Collins’ “spy in the Castle,” later a founder of Dublin’s own law enforcement system):

“By means of an old police trick: pretending that his comrades had betrayed him”

Or, in this excerpt from
The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened At Béal na mBláth?“:

With Collins removed, subsequent Dublin governments were content, or reduced, to leave northern nationalists twisting in the wind.

Thus it may be seen that removing Collins would have been critical to the fulfillment of British imperialist agendas for the north: agendas which such elements proved demonstrably willing to kill for, and to go on killing for, indefinitely.”

Qui bono? Who gains?

Read more 

Assassination of Michael Collins COVER

The Assassination
of Michael Collins:

What Happened
at Béal na mBláth?

by S M Sigerson
Paperback or Kindle edition here:
www.amazon.com/dp/1493784714

All other e-reader formats:
www.smashwords.com/books/view/433954

Read reviews:
http://www.rabidreaders.com/2014/12/03/assassination-michael-collins-s-m-sigerson-2/
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The Spy in the Castle COVER
The Spy in the Castle
by David Neligan
http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Spy-Castle-David-Nelligan/dp/0953569705

 

The Mcmahon Family Murders and the Belfast Troubles 1920-1922 COVER

 

The Mcmahon Family Murders
and the Belfast Troubles 1920-1922

(Belfast’s secret history series)
by Joe Baker
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mcmahon-Murders-Troubles-1920-1922-Belfasts/dp/B001A4FYMY


(The photo at the head of this post is courtesy of this book by J Baker.  Its amazon link is provided with apologies: as this interesting work can be difficult to obtain.)

 

Arthur Griffith & Michael Collins: Were their deaths connected?

Photo of Arthur Griffith (1871-1922)

Arthur Griffith 1871-1922)

(The following is an excerpt from the book
“The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Béal na mBláth?”)

Griffith, the founder of Sinn Fein, is considered by many to have been the leading strategist of Ireland’s 20th century independence movement … After ages of continual battle against British imperialism, it was his genius for uniting Ireland’s internal divisions, which brought nationalism into a new, ultimately victorious phase …

… The chances seem astronomical against there having been anything either “accidental”, “random”, or “natural” about the sudden death, within days of each other, of Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith, and Harry Boland. Even in the dangerous environment of the Civil War, it would be about equivalent to being struck by lightening while holding a winning lottery ticket.

P S O’Hegerty quotes Griffith himself as saying, in their interview on June 30, “Of course, those fellows will assassinate Collins and myself. DeValera is responsible for this, for all of it. There would have been no trouble but for him.”

[The Cabinet “junta’s”] first step was to isolate Arthur Griffith … shortly before his death [P Moylett] found Griffith sitting alone with not even a secretary or typist available to him.  –  John M Feehan 

Collins, who was working intimately with Griffith on a daily basis at the time, by no means took his death so much for granted as historians have been willing to do. As shown in his personal correspondence:

The death of poor Mr Griffith was indeed a shock to us all, more so naturally to those of us who had been intimate with him, and who thought that his illness was a very slight thing indeed. We shall miss for many a day his cheerful presence and his wise counsel … He had sounder political judgement than any of us, and in this way we shall feel his absence very keenly. 

Although no bounding youth like the C-in-C, Griffith, at 51, was hardly decrepit. The negotiations with Britain, the deterioration of the country into Civil War, certainly would place a tremendous strain on anyone in his highly responsible position. Yet, lest we forget, since the founding of Sinn Fein in 1905, Griffith had lived in the eye of a political storm. His life had consisted of unending controversy, continual persecution; in the course of which he endured years of imprisonment, and constant threat of arrest or assassination.

Yet P S O’Hegerty was even more shocked at Griffith’s demise:

Until the last few months, he never lay in a sickbed. Whoever else died, we felt sure that it would not be Griffith – Griffith with the iron will, the iron constitution, the imperturbable nerve. Griffith, whom we all thought certain to live to be one hundred and write the epitaph of all of us.  Griffith, upon whom we all leaned and depended.

At the time of Griffith’s death, the Civil War was in full swing. A list appears to have issued from some quarter, indicating that members of the Dublin government were to be shot on sight at the first opportunity. Government Buildings became for Griffith and other ministers “a place of internment,” for their own safety…

As for DeValera, that ambitious statesman would never have the most potent political voice in Ireland, as long as Griffith still lived.  Nor would any post-war government led by Griffith ever be supine to British interests …

Read more
“The Assassination of Michael Collins:
What Happened At Béal na mBláth?”
by S M Sigerson
Paperback or Kindle edition here:
www.amazon.com/dp/1493784714

All other e-reader formats:
www.smashwords.com/books/view/433954

Read reviews:
http://www.rabidreaders.com/2014/12/03/assassination-michael-collins-s-m-sigerson-2/

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Assassination of Michael Collins COVER